Daft Punk is giving “life” back to music

Daft Punk’s come back album Random Access Memories was meant to be a complete departure from the sampled electronic tracks that made them famous.  They collaborated with some of the most talented session musicians from the past 20 years including Paul Jackson, Jr., Nathan East, John Robinson, and Omar Hakim, in an effort to recreate the analog funk sound of the ‘70s.  Using that feel as a foundation, they added their signature digital touch and succeeded in creating their most successful album to date.  The opening track, “Give Life Back to Music,” is their statement of purpose for the album and is interesting structurally and sonically. 

In terms of instrumentation, the most prominent parts are a full standard acoustic drum kit, 2 guitar parts and bass.  Used more in the background are synthesized chimes, a synth arpeggio, and a pad synth.  Also, the vocal part is heavily affected with a polyphonic vocoder synth. The tempo is 119.0 but fluctuates slightly.  There is little to no digital signal processing, in order to maintain the analog sound.  Although the tracks on RAM were mixed in a digital non-linear format, all the instrumentation (including synthesizer performances) was first recorded to tape to preserve a “human” analog feel.  Nothing is locked strictly to the grid.  Chordally, the most interesting part of this track is that the chord changes in section A and B happen on the upbeat of 3.  This means that the bass part rarely plays a note right on the downbeat, giving a syncopated funk feel that is extremely uncommon in electronic and popular music today.  However, the drums stay perfectly straight throughout, and in Section C (the most played section) the chord changes happen on the downbeat and the bass walks and hits the downbeat much more often.  The vocal part follows the chord changes of the A and B sections, with the stress notes happening a half beat before each downbeat.

Structurally, the track looks like this:  A (8 Bars) – B (16 Bars) – B w/ vox (16 Bars) – C (16 Bars) – A w/ vox (8 Bars) – C w/ vox (8 bars) – C (8 Bars) – C w/ vox (8 Bars) – A (8 Bars) – B (32 Bars Fade Out).  With all the repetition structurally built into the track, the “human” feel of the music becomes extremely evident and important to maintain interest.

The loudest transient in this track is -5.3 dB and the softest is about -11.1 dB.  This range is another very unique aspect of not only this track but the entire album.  As part of giving “life” back to music, Daft Punk claims that the loudness war has to end.  Refusing to over-compress or maximize the track during mastering allows even more of that human essence to be retained in the recordings.

By design, this work is extremely atypical for Daft Punk in many ways.  However, the duo has always been interested in retro analog synthesizers and has used them extensively in their earlier work.  The difference now is that they have gone from sample-based production and grid-based editing to organic, acoustic recording and humanistic grooves.  This track was meant to make a statement about the state of electronic music and the danger of it becoming robotic and lifeless and in every aspect of its production it has succeeded. 

Listen to the track here:  Daft Punk – Give Life Back to Music

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3 responses to “Daft Punk is giving “life” back to music

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